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Tutorial: Cinema Cameras Dynamic Range

Cinema Cameras Dynamic Range

Cinema Cameras Dynamic Range Comparison: “Paycheck Stops” vs.“Gravy Stops”

DR (Dynamic Range) is one of the most crucial factors regarding image quality and capabilities of cinema cameras. High DR indicates high sensor’ technology and the camera’s abilities. However, there is no secret that cinema cameras manufacturers are taking advantages by showing the “Gravy Stops” and not the real “Paycheck Stops.” What does it mean? Read below.

Cinema Cameras Dynamic Range
Screengrab from The Great Camera Shootout 2011 -Episode 1 (dynamic range)

Dynamic Range as an essential parameter in the camera’s tech spec

The Dynamic Range (DR) number is one of the first parameters is the table that describes the technological highlights of a cinema camera. DR defines as the difference (proportion) between the darkest object a camera can photograph and the lightest. There is more than one definition for DR, but practically speaking, it indicates how much details you can see in the dark and how much in the light, all together.

DR defines as the difference (proportion) between the darkest object a camera can photograph and the lightest.

There is no unified methodology to examine and measure the DR of a camera. However, there are some common concepts like the DSC Labs charts, which allow cinematographers to produce scopes. Those waveforms and vectorscopes can assist in examining the camera performance from the deepest white to jet black.

Cinema Cameras Dynamic Range
DSC Labs DX-1 102-Db 18 Step Grayscale Test Chart

Each of the steps is one-stop denser than the one before. That allows us to look at the image of the chart on a monitor, and explore the DR of the camera with its current settings. 

There is also the ARRI Dynamic Range Test Chart DRTC which has been used in The Great Camera Shootout 2011: Episode 1.

ARRI Dynamic Range Test Chart DRTC
ARRI Dynamic Range Test Chart DRTC

I recommend every filmmaker to go and watch this extraordinary educating series from 2011. However, every manufacturer does its testing, which means that the DR factor can’t be comparable between cameras from different manufacturers.

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